We have the greatest Armed Forces in the world.
Our all-volunteer military consists of men and women who must accomplish goals set by others, sometimes at the cost of their lives. In many places around the world, the military is run by greedy officers to further their own ends. Elected officials have been routinely overthrown by military juntas for centuries. But our military has followed the orders of its Commander-in-Chief even when most of its members disliked or distrusted the President, such as when Bill Clinton held office.
And, mostly, it has comprised members who had ethics and tried to live by them. George Washington refused to allow himself to be named King of the new country. Robert E. Lee was not the only Southerner who resigned from the U.S. Army when he felt his primary duty was to his home state rather than the federal government. The occasional glaring exception to the high standard of conduct, such as My Lai and torture of Iraqi prisoners, has been punished. (Our free press takes some of the credit, of course, but let’s commend the military for their tolerance of this essential element of our democracy.)
Our citizen-soldiers take their can-do attitude into military service. The Normandy invasion during WWII is probably the shining example of the difference between rigid and free societies. On D-Day, no one in the German war machine had the authority to get the reserved Panzers into action (which experts agree could have turned D-Day into the worst Allied defeat) and Hitler’s personal staff refused to wake him up. But when Allied tanks were halted by enormous hedgerows, American ingenuity quickly developed several ways to enable them to advance, including the famous “rhinoceros” that cut through the hedgerows.
My father is a vet of WWII and Korea. I grew up during Viet Nam, and thought at the time that the antiwar activists were wrong to blame and abuse the participants. I’m glad today that even those who oppose our involvement in Iraq recognize the military deserve our commendation and support. My 16-year-old son is planning on serving in the Army after college. Although I naturally hope nothing happens to him, I’m proud that he has this goal.
There are (well-deserved) tributes to those who died or suffered injuries in the cause of freedom. But we need to also remember those who served, came home, and lived the rest of their lives as productive members of society, sometimes with haunting emotional scars. Thank you, all of you, for the freedom we take for granted.